Cowboys, Iowa St. fight to remain in Big 12 race

T-R GRAPHIC

T-R GRAPHIC

AMES — Oklahoma State and Iowa State can still reach the Big 12 title game.

But Saturday’s meeting might be an elimination game for two teams coming off losses that altered the trajectory of their season.

The 12th-ranked Cowboys (7-2, 4-2 Big 12, No. 15 CFP) and 24th-ranked Cyclones (6-3, 4-2, No. 21 CFP) are now tied with West Virginia for third in the conference behind Oklahoma and TCU, both 5-1 in the Big 12.

Since the Sooners and Horned Frogs also play on Saturday, the winner in Ames and the loser in Norman will own the same Big 12 record with two games to go.

The challenge for each team will be to bounce back from a tough loss– the Cowboys lost to rival Oklahoma 62-52 and Iowa State fell at West Virginia 20-16, snapping a four-game winning streak — and be ready to go on what promises to be a cold and gray morning.

“You want to be in it in November,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “We’re there right now and it’s great. It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

The matchup to watch will be Oklahoma State’s offense, which leads all Power 5 teams with 45.3 points per game, against Iowa State’s stingy defense. The Cyclones are second in the Big 12 in scoring defense and have held each of their first six league opponents to at least 10 points below their scoring average.

“I don’t think anybody could’ve predicted what they’ve done this season. They’re in every game, or they win against people that somebody thought they didn’t have a chance against. He’s an up-and-coming guy,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said about Campbell and the Cyclones.

Here are the keys to consider as the Cowboys look for their sixth straight win over Iowa State.

STOPPING RUDOLPH

Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph has already thrown for 3,314 yards and 27 touchdowns with a 63.3 completion percentage. But the Cyclones have befuddled opposing quarterbacks by giving them unique and multiple looks on defense. Iowa State pulled off its 38-31 upset of Oklahoma in part because it kept Baker Mayfield from throwing a TD pass in the fourth quarter. “You’ve got to be able to mix and match what you do and how you do it. It all starts with an elite quarterback and a really good offensive line,” Campbell said of the Cowboys.

IOWA STATE SLUMP

The Cyclones have seen their offense become stagnant in recent weeks. Iowa State has scored just 30 points in its last two games, and last week at West Virginia it had to twice settle for field goals from inside the Mountaineers’ 10-yard line. That’s a troubling trend for a team that could be forced into a shootout with the explosive Cowboys.

OPPORTUNISTIC COWBOYS

Oklahoma State’s defense is just sixth in the league with 28.6 points allowed per game, but it’s an opportunistic unit. The Cowboys are first in the Big 12 with 19 turnovers forced, including 14 interceptions. Iowa State is the only team in the country that hasn’t lost a fumble though, and it is plus-10 in turnover margin.

KEY NUMBERS

Iowa State is 4-2 in the league for the fourth time — and just the second in 40 years. The Cyclones were also 4-2 in 2002. …Oklahoma State’s James Washington leads the nation with 125.9 receiving yards per game, and he’s cracked the 100-yard mark in five of his last seven games. …Iowa State linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning is ninth nationally with 10.4 tackles a game. ..The Cowboys are 48-20 in the Big 12 since 2010.

HE SAID IT

“You tell them the way it is, like, ‘I wish you had a week off to feel sorry for yourself for a couple days, but I’ve got news for you. You better get right. You better get ready to play,” Gundy said of his message to his team this week.